I wrote this post last holiday season, but thought I’d give you a little update. The girls requested that our Elf on the Shelf return again this year, and so far it’s been a success, with only one early-morning-oh-crap-I-forget-to-move-the-Elf moment. Both of my daughters are simultaneously fascinated with and mildly creeped out by our Elf. But I want to hear from you: have any of your kids been scared shitless by the Elf on the Shelf? What did you do? Here’s how our story began …

Friends, please don’t hate me, but I’m going to add another Elf on the Shelf post to the literally hundreds circulating out there this holiday season. Forgive me. We’ve read every angle, from parents who think the Elf is the best thing ever to happen to them, to people who think those parents are assholes, to the people who think the Elf-Haters are assholes. I’m here to lend a new perspective.

When my daughter was four years old, I was thrilled to learn of the existence of the Elf on the Shelf. In addition to being an undoubtedly excellent behavior modification strategy, it was another opportunity for me to manufacture family holiday magic- score!

Knowing that my daughter was sensitive and needed lots of preparation for excitement, I casually brought up the possibility of Santa’s elf staying with us to feel her out and gauge her reaction. She was enthusiastic, so we read the book. For some reason that I can no longer recall, she decided to name him Dopey.

After she went to bed, my husband and I gleefully perched Dopey on the only shelf in our living room (It seemed the only option- I’m a rule follower and don’t like to think outside the box. Or shelf.) and speculated on her reaction the next morning.

Well, there was no mistaking her response: Dopey scared the shit out of her.

As soon as she laid eyes on him, she hid under a blanket on the couch and refused to come out. What’s more, she insisted I accompany her everywhere in the house–especially the bathroom– for weeks. Weeks– after his hasty removal from the premises. “Dopey,” she would cry frantically when I would question her need for my presence.

Mom. Fail.


Why was I surprised? Had I never met my daughter before? I knew her tendency to freak out over vivid visual and auditory stimuli, and let’s be honest- that elf is creepy as hell.

Fast forward 3 years. My daughter, now seven, hand-wrote a letter to Santa and placed it in the mailbox without allowing my husband or me to see it. After the deft interception before the mailman’s arrival, we opened it to see that, not only had she written a lengthy note, she’d included a gingerbread ornament from our tree as a gift to Santa. How sweet is that? She’d also requested that the Elf– none other than Dopey himself– return this year.

Did not see that coming. Santa of course replied, and said that when she was ready, she could ask her parents to read the book (which we kept for some ungodly reason, along with Dopey, whom I’d recently discovered in a box in the garage.) and he would know she was ready. And so we proceeded, reading the book to both girls and preparing for Dopey’s arrival.

By “preparing,” I mean that I nearly forgot the entire operation until my husband reminded me at the last minute, while my eager daughter prepared a wooden box for Dopey to use as a bed, a pillow and blanket for him to use, and a lantern complete with written operating instructions. I kid you not.


In her letter, in addition to welcoming Dopey and instructing him on how to best make use of the lantern, she implored him not to “make trouble.” I thought my heart would break. She also asked him not to be mad if her sister touched him- after all, she is only two years old! The other side of her sensitivity– the ingenuous, gorgeous empathy and earnestness– came through in full force.

The morning Dopey arrived was a success: there was no freaking out or hysteria at all! My two year old was equally delighted, and I admit I actually felt a bit excited that we could join the rest of the world in participating in this god-forsaken tradition.


For anyone else whose anxious, highly-sensitive child may have had a “bad experience” with the Elf, here is my 12 step program for recovering from Elf-terror and reintegrating him into your household in order to more sufficiently manipulate your children this holiday season. You’re welcome.

  1. Enthusiastically purchase your Elf on the Shelf and read the book to your children.
  2. Name the Elf and come up with a plan.
  3. Write out detailed ideas illustrating your creative elf-placing locations and whimsical elf-mischief possibilities.
  4. Present your Elf to your offspring.
  5. Ignore your own feelings about the disturbing appearance of said Elf and try to convince your terrified child that the Elf is her friend, here to help!
  6. Desperately assure your child that you will remove the Elf from your property- he will never be seen or heard from again! Just please come out of hiding, for the love of God!
  7. Plead with your child, and in a moment of true desperation, admit the truth: “He’s not a real Elf! I bought him at Barnes and Noble! I thought you’d like him! He’s just a toy- a fraud!”
  8. Dutifully accompany your traumatized child everywhere, enduring whimpers of the dreaded elf’s name whenever a complaint of fear is vocalized.
  9. Hide that goddamn book and doll where she will never, ever find it.
  10. Move on with your life, grateful that when you see photos of other enterprising parents who have undecorated their entire Christmas tree or toilet-papered their home in the name of the naughty elf, you have no part in this madness due to the fact that your child was scared shitless.
  11. Spend another year smugly mocking those idiots who have to move the Elf every night.
  12. When your child, now maturing and finding her courage, requests the Elf’s return, suck it up and play along. You had a good run.


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